Co-Innovation Matters To A Digital Ecosystem

David Cruickshank

Part 1 in the 4-part Co-Innovation Series. 

I was recently asked to contribute as a blogger to the Digitalist Magazine, exploring trends and use cases in digital innovation and transformation. The work I am doing as lead of the SAP Co-Innovation Lab in Palo Alto explains why I was quick to opt in.

For a long time, I’ve been keen to share some use cases surrounding digital transformation projects that I believe represent the sorts of problems innovators typically face. Some of the projects I’ve helped guide to completion take advantage of integration between complementary components to forge end-to-end and other co-innovated solutions. In these projects, two or more firms come together through real openness to create useful and compelling innovation that a single firm is unlikely to do alone. My objective in this initial blog series is to help CIOs and their peers think about different approaches to tackling digital transformation projects and to learn of existing co-innovation outcomes that may well be relevant.

Consider the risk factor

For example, look at the problems you need to solve among both your current transformation projects as well as those you still need to tackle – but don’t. You hold off on an important project when you recognize a high chance for failure; yet not acting does not eliminate risk. It’s a principle described by the term “Auribus Teneo Lupum,” which refers to an unsustainable matter where risk exists regardless of action. There are many reasons for companies to embrace and champion digital transformation, but not embarking on the journey is to risk becoming an also-ran in the market.

Sharing the presumed risk through co-innovation, then, can prove to be a reasonable approach. It’s challenging to adequately address solving a complex problem when faced with limited internal resources and knowledge of technologies like artificial intelligence. How can you know how to use these technologies to extract useful business insights from something like machine sensor data? Combining mutual business interest with resources and talent from sources both internally and externally opens options for making insights actionable.

Potential limitations of the traditional approach

In most organizations, enterprise IT must securely, and to scale, deliver and manage the core applications and business systems of record and all tools essential for running the company. IT teams are often organized around key operations, data center engineering, network and server security, database management, network engineering, client applications, and help desks. Digital transformation projects may be driven across each of these various domains, and many will intersect.

Whether led from within or outside of IT, digital transformation projects pursued across any of these domains will depend on the existing technical subject-matter experts available to drive relevant project work. When the goals and scope of the project align well with the available talent, progress results. When the needs of the business exceed internal experience, what other options might exist for taking on more challenging projects other than acquiring, at some cost, the skills and expertise needed to advance?

A broader innovation ecosystem

Through a business ecosystem, there can be many ways for a company to engage with the outside world. A large multinational firm might work within its own expansive ecosystem, for example, or as a relevant technology company connected to and engaged in innovation activity across one or more ecosystems.

For me, the term digital transformation refers to more than simply digitizing processes or swapping pixels for paper. A transformed company is agile and can rapidly adapt to change in customers, markets, and industries. That said, there is ample argument for your company to look for opportunities to not only co-innovate with leading technology vendors, but to harness the co-innovation they are already doing, or capable of doing, with partners that can solve a difficult problem you now face. Wrangling with a complex problem can be difficult and involve risk from doing nothing or doing the wrong thing. Working the problem from multiple sides, leveraging a spectrum of subject-matter and domain experts to comprise a co-innovation approach, is invaluable. It can reduce overall risk, further enrich a desired solution, accelerate getting innovation deployed, and establish a precedent for solving more problems through collaboration.

Personal observation of the power of co-innovation

As a regular contributor to the Digitalist, I plan to describe in a series of blogs three different co-innovation projects focusing on the Internet of Things for analytics, cognitive computing in supply chain, and cybersecurity to serve as examples.

If you’ve spent any time as part of a team overseeing digital transformation projects, you might have been trying to collect or extract insights from thousands of remote sensors into a real-time analytics environment. Or you might be investigating the use of homomorphic encryption at scale, or trying to find a way to consume data from drones managed as a service.

Instead of doing everything alone, you might look to work with your leading suppliers in collaboration or leveraging what some proactive vendors are doing with partners today or could co-innovate. There may be teams out there trying and failing – and therefore open to a co-innovation approach. Don’t miss my future posts to learn more about why co-innovation matters.

For more insight on innovation strategies, see Three Character Traits Of A Good Innovation Manager.

David Cruickshank

About David Cruickshank

David Cruickshank is senior director for strategy and operations for the SAP Co-Innovation Lab. He leads the lab's efforts in Silicon Valley to enable ecosystem-driven co-innovation between SAP, its partners, and customers. Additionally, he manages all operational aspects necessary to run a multimillion-dollar data center to provision private cloud infrastructures to deliver productive SAP landscapes consumed by co-innovation projects seeking a faster track to market for commercially successful innovations.